Why Did the Bolsheviks Win the Russian Civil War?

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Why Did the Bolsheviks Win the Russian Civil War?

Civil war broke out between the Reds, who were the Bolsheviks led by Lenin, and the Whites who were made up of anti-Bolshevik parties and groups broke out in 1918.

Many different people opposed the Bolsheviks. Patriotic Russians saw the Bolsheviks as traitors for signing the Brest-Litovsk treaty that gave away large amounts of valuable territory.  Former Tsarists such as land owners or bourgeoisie wanted to bring back the monarchy as they had done well under Tsarist rule. Others wanted to see a rightwing military dictatorship – these people dominated the white army’s cause. Liberals and moderate socialists opposed the Bolsheviks dictatorship and wanted to see a government run under the Constituent Assembly. Also national minorities such as the Ukrainians opposed Bolshevik rule as they wanted independence from Russia.

Another factor in the Reds defeating the Whites was that the Reds controlled the central area of Russia, which included 2 major cities, Petrograd and Moscow. This meant they had more resources and could supply the Army as the main armament factories were in this area. . Moscow was at the centre of the rail network – which meant they could move men and munitions to the battle fronts. Also the Reds could conscript large amounts of men to fight as this area was heavily populated. Communication was made difficult for the Whites as they had no telephone links – this meant that co-ordinating the different white armies was hard, which meant that the Reds could defeat these comparatively small attacks one by one.

The Whites were split up by the different group that made it up. They could not agree on a political strategy as they each wanted different things – Monarchism, Republicanism or for a Constituent Assembly. In contrast the Bolsheviks had a single unified command structure.

The Red army was headed by Trotsky who turned it into an effective fighting force. He reorganised the army and brought back thousands of former tsarist officers, and also brought back the strict hierarchical lines (saluting, ranks, pay differentials). Many of these officers who were unemployed were keen to get back into the world they knew best. However to ensure their loyalty Trotsky had their families held hostage. This return to the traditional army was against what the Bolsheviks had once revolted against (that there should be no ranks in the army and men should turn their guns against these officers) and was resented by other leading Bolsheviks including Stalin, who wanted an army more like militia. However Lenin supported Trotsky as he saw it as the only solution given the state the army was in. To please the party and ensure the loyalty of the officers further Trotsky attached a political commissar to each army unit. These commissars were to keep an eye on the officers and make sure what they did was politically correct and in keeping with their policies, and to give useful information to the central powers. Other Bolshevik policies such as the election of officers by soldiers and the soldiers’ committees were removed. Trotsky further angered the soldiers by re-introducing harsh military discipline. He proved to be a great leader as he travelled to the front lines in his armoured train, inspiring men to fight and improving morale, and although not being the major military strategist he kept the army organised and made it work effectively.

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The civil war was as much a battle of hearts and minds as it was of territory and power. Propaganda was used by both the White and Red army to win people over to their cause and support them. The Reds put particular emphasis on propaganda, they tried to get support of peasants and workers by putting across how the Whites would take land away from the peasants and the reds offered a wonderful new society for both peasants and workers. The Reds showed themselves as fighting for the workers and peasants – many of their pictures showed visual ...

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